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Important considerations when choosing the right provider
Look for the three (3) Critical Success Factors:
It’s a rare combination, but every one of the follow aspects are critical to the creation, launch and running of a successful eCommerce project over time:
The Right Technology
to fulfil all your business requirements. Knowing your business requirements, maintaining your storefront independently, making good on delivery calculations and orders are examples of what your eCommerce software must already be able to do.
Intelligent Support Infrastructure
for the effective support, hosting and technical knowhow at hand to ensure that your technology is up and running as close to 100% as possible allowing you to focus 100% on selling and running your business
Professional eCommerce Services
that are geared to helping you to sell effectively online, including: online merchandising, information architecture, sales strategies and sales focused copywriting.
IMPORTANT QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR ECOMMERCE PROVIDER:
How many eCommerce sites have they done before?
An Important question… Experience will dictate how well your storefront is built, operates and sells online. If your provider has launched many storefronts, then you’ll have something to look, test and compare for yourself online.
What is the core competency of your provider?
If your provider offers web design, logo design, flash animation, eCommerce, seo and a number of other semi unrelated services, then it’s likely they’re cyber jacks – prepared to do anything and everything to land work, which obviously does not lend itself to an ability to truly differentiate themselves in any particular area.
Does your provider have a fully functional eCommerce system?
Or do they have to “build” one?Can they show you something that really works and does it work for you? If they don’t, you may wait a very, very long time to start trading online and even then it’s likely the system will not work smoothly. Beware those designers and developers (and there are many!) who want to use your project as a guinea pig, convincing you that setting an eCommerce storefront is easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it successfully.
What happens when something doesn’t work?
Do you get charged for someone to fix it? Are there Support and Maintenance Costs? How long will it take to get back up and running? Think very hard about what it will cost you if your site is down – how many sales will you lose, what will it do to your reputation, how much of your own time and effort will be eaten up trying to resolve issues...? There should be one point of call where your provider is prepared to fix problems immediately at no charge to you.
What kind of Technical support do you get?
Do you get charged for this? Can you phone in and expect immediate and intelligent answers to questions? What is the turnaround time for response by telephone and email? For as long as you own your storefront, you should expect the highest customer support from your provider that knows you by name.
Do you get access to upgrades?
If so, do you have to pay for them? What kind of upgrades can you expect in future? Every successful piece of software ever developed is organic in the sense that it changes, grows, refines and provides for new and better ways of doing things. Don’t get stuck with a once off solution. Upgrades might include things like multi currency convertors or integration points with 3rd party accounting packages.
What kind of bandwidth and hosting environment do you get?
How fast is your hosting environment and are you hosted in South Africa? This makes a huge difference to how fast your site loads which makes a huge difference to whether customers are going to lose patience and leave your storefront - never to return. Going for the cheapest option here is probably not the smartest route to take. Your eCommerce provider should provide for all your hosting requirements and guarantee as close to a 99.9% uptime as possible. Test the speed and availability of other eCommerce storefronts hosted on this environment yourself.
How independent are you?
Do you have to ask your provider to complete critical business tasks such as upgrading orders, adding in new content such as products and prices, running reports, creating affiliate campaigns, changing your design? If so, do they charge for this and how fast do they get it done? This is one of the more costly and debilitating hidden costs out there. Ideally, you should be able to 100% independently maintain content, orders, product information and prices yourself, including all other major ongoing business requirements without having to contact your provider to do it for you.
What kind of security certificates do they provide?
If they don’t provide full Thawte (or Versign) certification, at least 128 bit encryption and SLL (Secure socket Layer) technology, then they’re not providing your customer with a secure place to perform online transactions.
What does your provider advise you use your Storefront’s main page for?
If there is no mention of placing products, specials or items that will be truly of interest to your customer, then you’ll know that your provider is not thinking about designing a storefront to sell. Online merchandising is a vital aspect of developing any successful storefront aimed at providing your customers with as many reasons to buy from you as possible.
Are you tied into Contract?
Be very careful here... If you are, for how many months and what are the terms? There is nothing worse than being tied to something that is not providing you with value. The best providers will not tie you into a formal or unreasonable contract and should base their ongoing services as value to you, not as forced customer retention for them.
Has your provider given you a deadline?
If not, you may wait a very long time to get things done and get online and selling. Deadlines are there for a reason as not only a commitment to you, but also as a solid indication that the work they have promised has realistic time frames to them.